12 Cool Things You Didn’t Know about PowerPoint Shapes

Posted on January 20, 2013 in Editing Slides, Slide Content, Slide Design, Technical PowerPoint Help, Tips & Tricks by Toke Kruse

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Whether you’re a PowerPoint newbie or an old pro, there’s probably a thing or two you haven’t learned yet about the use of auto shapes and SmartArt. Check out these 12 quick tips and be the coolest PowerPoint user on your block.

1. You can use them to create a custom flowchart. Sure, the SmartArt feature in PowerPoint has several types of ready-made flowcharts – but for all you control freaks out there, the shapes function is the simplest way to create flowcharts that are 100% customized to your needs.

2. There’s more to shapes than, well, shape. It’s simple to add a color fill or texture to any PowerPoint shape. Choose from dozens of colors and visual textures by clicking the arrow next to Fill Colors. Remember, if you don’t want a flat solid color filling your shapes, you can also find gradient shape fills in the same menu. And although shapes automatically feature a dark outline, you can choose to hide the outline by selecting “no outline” in the Shape Outline menu.

3. Never mind boring old color or texture fills—how about filling a PowerPoint shape with a stock photo or a personal snapshot? Just click the Picture button under the Shape Fills option in Drawing Tools, and then select the picture file you want to use, from your own computer files.

4. Chances are, you already know that you can easily resize a PowerPoint shape to make it larger or smaller than the default. An essential need-to-know tip about resizing, however, is using the shift key to keep the shape from distorting as it shrinks or grows. It’s simple – just hold down your shift key while dragging the corner of any selected shape, and it will remain a perfect square or circle (or, for other shapes, stay within its original proportions).

5. Another handy resizing tip: If you hold down the Control key while dragging, your shape will resize from the center of the shape rather than from the top edge. This is particularly useful when you need to surround another object with a circle or oval.

6. You can use the shapes feature to alter existing clip art. First, ungroup the pieces of the original clip art. Once all of the clip art shapes are ungrouped, you can add in other PowerPoint shapes as well as edit the color and proportions of the original pieces. You can also delete parts of the original.

7. Here’s a simple but extremely useful tip: position a shape anywhere you like on a slide. In other words, when you add a new shape to a slide, it doesn’t have to go inside a text box.

8. An advanced feature in PowerPoint 2010 allows you to combine multiple shapes. It’s called, naturally, Combine Shapes. With this tool, you can Combine, Intersect, Subtract, or make a Union of individual shapes. However, this feature won’t automatically show up – you have to add it manually. Go into the PowerPoint Options dialog and choose “customize ribbon” in order to add the Combine Shapes command as an option.

9. Some PowerPoint shapes are more editable than others. For example, there’s not much you can do to dramatically alter an oval or circle, but you can make an arrow look a lot different. How do you know which shapes can be manipulated? When a shape is selected, click on the black square in the bottom-left corner of the shape. Small white squares will appear at each point in the shape that can be edited. Just grab and drag to alter each point to your liking.

10. What’s more, you can transform any PowerPoint shape into something that you can edit, using the Freeform format. Choose a standard shape that’s similar to what you have in mind, and tweak it until it matches the picture in your imagination. You’ll end up with more professional-looking results than if you had drawn it by hand. Just look for the Convert to Freeform option under “Drawing Tools.”

11. You can reverse or rotate a shape in order to change its position. This is also called flipping the shape or creating a mirror image. After you select a shape, look for the rotation handle. To rotate the shape, drag the handle in whatever direction you choose. If you want, you can constrain the rotation to 15-degree angles by holding down the shift key before rotating.

12. Here’s a great cheater tip for a fast and easy way to visually cut a shape in two (or more) pieces without relying on PowerPoint 2010’s Shape Subtract function. In the shapes menu, choose the Line tool. Create lines that bisect your shape in the way that you want; for example, you might place vertical and horizontal lines in a cross shape over a filled circle in order to represent four equal pie slices. Now, change the line color to match the background color of your slide. The lines will disappear and your shape will be magically transformed!

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